Dealing With Pandemic Grief in Organizations: A Human Resources (HR) Challenge

Dealing With Pandemic Grief in Organizations: A Human Resources (HR) Challenge

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9840-5.ch003
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This chapter analyzes grief in organizations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has become a challenge that human resources professionals need to include in their future strategies. The chapter provides a literature review surrounding the concepts of grief and loss, especially pandemic-related grief and grief in the workplace. Additionally, it includes the most relevant scales used to evaluate grief and bereavement related to different types of loss. Best practices are included to present a general overview of how grief and loss can be dealt with in a way in which the positive emotions can be used to outcast lasting negative emotions. A modified version of the pandemic grief scale was applied in a private business school in Mexico to analyze the impact of grief in the workplace during the health crisis.
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Grief in the workplace has become the elephant in the room (Rigstaff, 2020); it is an issue that tends to be overlooked because it constitutes an uncomfortable subject that is sometimes stigmatized. Grief has been prevalent in the workplace and has seen an upsurge due to COVID-19; however, it is rarely addressed. Past research, particularly in the field of psychology, focused on the negative emotions associated with grief, such as depression, anxiety, and anger; more recently, positive emotions have taken center stage, becoming more prevalent than negative emotions (Wortman in Sander & Scherer, 2009). The pandemic has shed light on the gap in bereavement support, leaving people scared to share or ask for help during complex life events at work, as there has traditionally been a lack of discussion about grief in the workplace (Linch, 2021).

Even before the pandemic started, grief was a normal part of the workplace (Whitlock, 2020) but had not been adequately assessed nor tackled (Olbricht, 2020). In order to become sustainable in the long run and care for the well-being of their employees, organizations need to reflect a compassionate and grief-informed workplace culture and honor the reality of employees' grief (Davies, 2021).

The COVID-19 pandemic changed how organizations functioned. It is not just an employee grieving; it is the entire employee roster and other stakeholders (Keefauver, 2021) that interact with organizations. The situation has become so prevalent that it has been suggested that the most significant risk in business right now is grief (Aspan, 2020), and that grief is the latest challenge for employers and human resources management (HRM) (Place, 2020). Grief experienced in the personal life has a spillover into the workplace, affecting work behaviors and outcomes (Gilbert & Kelloway, 2021).

Employee productivity is negatively impacted by continuous grief and loss (Olbricht, 2020), costing millions of hours of productivity (Davies, 2021). In the US alone, before the pandemic, grief and trauma caused losses of over 100 billion dollars in 2003 due to increased absenteeism and presenteeism, increased errors in judgment, decreased participation, more employee turnover, efficiency problems, poor personal relationships, and a high accident rate (Norton, 2020). It has been estimated that losses due to grief have reached a quarter trillion dollars in the US (Rigstaff, 2020).

Pandemic grief has been compared to war against an invisible enemy that attacks anyone without warning (Hollinger, 2020). It is based on unmitigated grief, immeasurable loss, and a prolonged grief experience (Petry, Hughes & Galanos, 2021). Employees are grieving different kinds of losses all at once (Caron, 2021). Some people are grieving multiple, compounding, and catastrophic stressors and losses (Keefauver, 2020; Aspan, 2020). People lost the way they used to live; there is increased fear, stress, frustration, impatience, uncertainty about work, and loss of life in general (Hollinger, 2020). Loss of routine and sense of safety are common, along with human loss, financial devastation, caregiver fatigue (Keefauver, 2020), loss of predictability, connections, and even loss of daily norms (CIGNA, 2020). Every loss needs to be acknowledged and addressed to be managed accordingly (Caron, 2021).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Loss: State of no longer having something or someone.

Grief: The emotional and physical reactions to loss.

Scale: A survey or questionnaire with different variables for analysis.

Support: The action of encouraging and helping someone.

Mourning: The process of dealing with loss.

Pandemic: An epidemic that spreads worldwide.

Bereavement: The actual state of loss and mourning.

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